One of the first memories of being in the field that Al Jazeera English reporter Haru Mutasa has is the sexism she endured from her subjects. ‘I remember being ignored by the people who I was meant to be interviewing. They thought that because I was so young and was often the only woman on the team, I couldn’t be anyone they needed to greet.’ Mutasa started out as a journalist in 2005, freshly graduated from Rhodes University, and was recruited by Al Jazeera when she was based in Nairobi, Kenya. Now based in South Africa, Mutasa has covered many African conflicts, including the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007, and the 2008 battle of N’Djamena, when French soldiers left her behind in an evacuated hotel as the rebels closed in on the presidential palace. Being firm, compassionate, respectful and patient are some of the qualities Mutasa learnt would get her far. With time and experience she began to be taken seriously and earn the respect of her colleagues.
Her proudest piece of work was covering the Ivory Coast civil war in 2011: all the borders and airports were closed but Mutasa and her colleagues, cameraman Austin Gundani and producer Gladys Njoroge, snuck in across the border with Ghana and spent an entire month there. Mutasa found that being an African woman helped her escape lifethreatening situations. ‘We had to go through many rebel-manned check points and at one a woman came up to the car and warned us not to go any further because the road was not safe. She admitted that the only reason she warned us was because we were women and when she saw us she “saw her daughters”.’ WOMENin SOCIETY Mutasa and her team saw things in Ivory Coast that no one should ever have to see, risked their lives on several occasions and negotiated with heavily armed young men high on drugs.
Click on Images For Next Haru Mutasa Photo
But they managed to survive and tell an important story, and it’s this that keeps Mutasa going. The feeling of being part of the only team in the world to cover a conflict first-hand is one of the reasons she hasn’t thrown in the towel on risky reporting. Today, she notes, while the people she works with might take her seriously, society at large still seems to question the credibility of a female reporter. ‘Women get much more slack from viewers, male and female. You can do a great report on conflict in South Sudan and all someone will comment on online is why your hair was messy,’ she says.
She believes we still have a long way to go before women will be the norm in her industry. But it’s not only gender inequality that’s an issue: ‘Ultimately I’d like to see more Africans from Africa … telling our own stories, because it’s our home. No one can tell our stories better than we can.’ British-born journalist Jessica Hatcher also seeks to address imbalances in the industry, but in a dierent way: her reporting often tries to lift the lid on the people and narratives that wouldn’t usually make the news. She also enjoys engaging readers who don’t have a prior interest in this part of the world and telling stories about everyday lives, such as the female national running team in Mogadishu, a year after the Somalia capital was liberated from Islamist militants.